Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just Molson

By Belinda

For four days now I have been Mom to Molson. His real mom, Brenda, comes home tomorrow from her vacation in the sun. Not only have I been Mom to Molson, but also to Blossom the chinchilla and two cockatoos whose names escape me at the moment.

I must confess that coming downstairs in my robe to let Molson out and being greeted by a wolf whistle, has been a rousing and exciting start to my day. I will have to get Paul to do that after Brenda comes home tomorrow--just to keep my self esteem intact.

I have had a lot more exercise than usual, faithfully getting Molson out for a good walk every day, even in the rain on Sunday. I can feel the result in my glutes. Will they be gorgeous? No hope of that! But I can feel them at least, and that is a promising sign.

We explore a neighbourhood heavy into post-winter resurrection. Although the ditches run thick with last year's blackened leaves, from beneath them springs the green of this year's new life.

The scent of wood fires hangs in the air and dogs abound with masters and mistresses in tow. Molson ignores most of them politely, unless they make an approach, and then he perks up into alert state, ears high and eyes carefully averted, making prancing attempts to engage curious sniffing dogs in play.

A walk with my golden friend is such a pleasure. His extreme happiness at the "signs:" the putting on of my walking shoes; the opening of the drawer in which I keep the bags for my pocket; the donning of the walkman:  The slightest hint of a walk throws him into ecstasy!

The best part is when we are almost home and I can safely take off his lead. Then I can walk on ahead if he stops to explore a particularly deliciously scented patch of ground. I love the sound of his galloping approach, feet thudding as he catches up, ears flying and pink tongue flopping happily. Being a retriever, his greatest joy is carrying the red lead folded in his mouth for the last leg of the walk.

He asks nothing more in order to be happy, than to simply be with one of us, following from room to room and flopping at our feet. What a gift a dog is and how grateful I am that God sent this particular one to us.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Life in Quarters

By Belinda

I don't think that I will ever stop pondering time. I am fascinated with its perception and passage; measuring and musing about it, and trying to harness and hold something as slippery as a pile of colourful silk scarves in a summer sidewalk sale.

For all its futility, it keeps my mind occupied pleasantly and is something I like to think about.

I shared with some friends recently the mixed blessing of being a "here--now" type of person. The blessing is being able to intensely appreciate the moment you are in; the down side is being slow to move on to "next" and getting stuck sometimes in the fascinating occupation of the "now."

I have "next" people in my family. Paul naturally gears up for whatever is "next;" and very early on, I have to say. He is always ready to leave a full ten minutes before he has to, so intent on "next" is he. I, on the other hand, happily absorbed in my "now, reluctantly pull up anchor whenever we go somewhere together. (I am listening to Caroline Alexander’s book,The Bounty, at the present, which is why, I think, there is a nautical theme slipping in.)

My latest thoughts on time are flowing a little bit from the fact that in a little over 5 years I plan to retire. When you are this close to that blissful land of "free" time, it would be easy to coast along until then like a piece of driftwood. I don't want to do that, so I have been thinking a lot about it.

Something popped into my head that helped to focus my thinking. It occurred when pondering the swift approach of the end of March, so close on the heels of Christmas. "A quarter of the year has gone by already," I thought, with the amazement shared by friends who wonder "where the summer went." Or any other season for that matter.

It occurred to me that thinking of time in quarters of  years, changes 5 years into 20 swift passing quarters. That was just what I needed in order to realize how little time 5 years really is.

I have never been the kind of person that was any good with 5 year goals. But I can think of what I want to accomplish in the next quarter, or a year comprised of 4 quarters. Or 5 years comprised of just 20 quarters.
If I think of there only being 3 quarters until Christmas, it makes me want to plan better so that everything isn't squished into the last quarter, thus making it the Crazy Quarter! I don't know yet if I can do it, but I'm going to give it a try.

And, how did we ever find ourselves at the end of March already?

Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows.
Michael Landon

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Church Business Meeting

By Belinda

I've been to my share of church business meetings. Calling them a "necessary evil" doesn't seem quite appropriate somehow, but I do think that is what most of us consider them to be!

We have to have them and some of us dutifully attend each year. Others (you know who you are:)) manage to escape under the guise of having some urgent errand to attend to.

Our church board and pastor have made efforts to make the meetings easier on those of us that attend. They are after the Sunday morning service, so that we don't have to make an effort to get there. We just have to resist the urge to flee.

We even have sandwiches and coffee and the reports are all circulated a week ahead in a booklet in an effort to streamline the process.

We were supposed to read the booklet in advance so that at yesterday's business meeting, the reports would just be moved and seconded, an opportunity given for questions and then they would be passed.

That system broke down for Paul and me. At the door last week I picked up a copy of the booklet. Paul, who came to church later, also picked one up. Since we were supposed to only have one per family, I decided to put mine back. When I got home, Paul asked, "Did you bring your booklet home?"

"No," I said, "I gave it back."

No prizes for guessing who also dutifully handed theirs back! We had to get Brenda, who is the church secretary, to bring a copy home in the middle of the week.

I only have to think back to some past church business meetings to be grateful for those we have now. It is easy to take for granted how uneventful they currently are.

In the early nineties I was the first woman nominated for the board, which caused more than a ripple of opposition from some. For many years now it has been a non issue, and our board has long benefitted from having both men and women members. It is hard to believe that it was even an issue!

I have been at meetings that were heated and fraught with emotion and we could have been forgiven for forgetting that we were at a church business meeting. There were budgets that were scrutinized and criticized and  feelings that ran high.

None of that has happened in our church for many years. I think that maybe the tone of the business meeting is representative of the health of the church.

Ours are just a bit lengthy, but we can't really complain about two hours of listening to good people sharing the good work that they are doing with children and youth and missions. 70% of our church membership is involved in some capacity--an unusually large percentage, I think.

There was only one disruption that broke out in our pew. Strangely it came as the worship ministry report was being shared.

It was when it was announced that, "The music ministry would like to host a 50+ event in the way of a Gaither Gospel Night." My pew neighbour and I are both in that age category but not in that music appreciation slot (not that there aren't many people who love that kind of music and nothing wrong with that at all.)

"The Gaithers are for the 65 +. We were hippies," said my friend Ann loudly.

"Yes," I said, even though I wasn't exactly a hippy; I just didn't want to be put in a slot of being 50+ and a lover of big hair and the Gaithers.

"We are more into rock and roll," Ann went on.

"Yes," I said again, egging her on. I was quite enjoying this now.

Well, that was it. That was the high point in terms of excitement at our church business meeting. Other than that it was all just sandwiches and coffee and too many people passionate for God!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Picture Post

By Belinda

On March 25th, our granddaughter Tori turned 11. As we celebrated this occasion at cell group, I thought of the imprinting I hope is happening deep in her soul.

What rich memories she will have of the friends that gather around our table.
I hope that they will weave themselves into a blanket that will wrap her in its warmth,whenever she needs it.





Dewey--The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron (with Bret Witter). I had this book out of the library in audio CDs. Tori listened to some of it one night and fell in love with Dewey. "I have to read that book!" she said. A wish I was happy to make come true! :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

About My Ride to Work Yesterday

Susan and I spent yesterday with ten members of her team, at a day of training.

On a break I checked emails on my Blackberry. There was one from my friend, Dave, sharing his thoughts about a bus ride to work.

I couldn't help myself; I boldly blurted out in a return email,"I love this. Can I post it on my blog?"

"Um...yes," he wrote back, asking only that I let him know when I would use it.

Susan usually posts on Fridays, so I thought that I would save it for Monday.

At the end of our long day, Susan was at our house for cell group. We had dinner, and then, just as we finished clearing away the dishes, she turned to me and said, "I'm so exhausted, I'm going home. I don't think I could focus on the study tonight." She had been up since 4.00 a.m. with back pain.

"How would you like not to write a blog post tonight?" I asked.

And she said something she never says:"I would love that."

"God has it covered," I said.

I think that God delights to give us such love gifts.

By Dave Hingsburger

These moments don't happen often and, as such, I'm always a little
surprised by them.

Yesterday I was on the bus going to work. It was a sunny day and we were driving by trees. My mind wasn't on the day to come or the last day done, I was simply in the present and completely quiet.

Suddenly, I knew in the way you know this thing, God was with me. Present with me. Around me and beside me.

In days long past, as a youth, these moments were destroyed by my need to get all holy and 'Thee and Thou' with God. To talk like a little kid full of a day's story. To fill the silence that brought God's presence with sound and words and things.

It was like I saw God as a heavenly social worker with an enormous daily planner and one huge case list, dropping by to tick off the fact that his visit was done.

So I'd speak in words I never use about things that never mattered. And God, with a sigh I almost heard would soon be gone.

Now, it's different. I do not need to fill these moments. I realize that the moment is here not because God is open to me but because I am open to him. I realize that I say more in just sitting quiet with him. Enjoying the intimacy of time spent together without words. Like two old friends enjoying a ride on the bus together.

It is in these moments I realize how much my God loves me, yes. But, more importantly, I realize how much I love God.

I love the presence and the reassurance.

I love the connection and the direction.

I love knowing that God will ride a bus with me even if I don't always walk with him.

(Dave writes on disability issues at Rolling Around in My Head.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Future Tense

By Belinda

I slip from beneath the warm covers, wondering at my nightly metamorphosis.

At night I wander towards my bed like a wayward child, happily distracted at every turn from actually getting there. Those chilly sheets don't beckon at all! But by morning...oh, it is a cozy nest in which I long to linger as long as possible.

Today, though, I was propelled by the knowledge that a friend would be waiting at Cora's where we were meeting for breakfast. Adding to my sense of urgency was my uncertainty of the time we were to meet. When I went to bed I was sure it was 8.30. Overnight I was seized with doubt. Was it 8.30 or 8.00? The need to call and find out got me up in good time and to find in relief that I was right all along--we were meeting at 8.30.

So I sat down with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, glad that I had time to read my Daily Light. And a scripture verse that I have read countless times before jumped off the page at me as if it were written in flashing pink neon lightbulbs.

John 18:36 (New International Version)
6Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

The "where " of Jesus's kingdom, had everything to do with the thrust of his actions and his motivation at a moment of great pressure and crisis.

"My kingdom is not of this world....If it were" there would be a different course of action.

I don't know why all of a sudden that hit me with such profound significance but it did.

"What about me?" I wondered, "How rooted in this world am I?"

"And how much," I thought, "does that rootedness affect my actions and motivations?"

How well do I, who profess to follow this man, actually represent what he stood for?

Am I as distracted on my way to heaven as I am on the way to bed at night? And am I as cosily rooted on earth as I am in my morning cocoon of bed? 

We live in tension between earth and heaven, and I think that maybe that is the way it is meant to be. We are here, now, and meant to enjoy the richness of relationship with friends and family.

But much of what consumes me--well, the verse this morning made me wonder whether it is what consumed Christ. Which kingdom has my heart? It was a course correction moment. A good one.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Amy Carmichael, Derick Bingham and a Pen

On March 6th, Derick Bingham died. He was one of Belfast, Northern Ireland's best known Bible teachers, and also author of one of my favourite books, The Wild Bird Child: A Life of Amy Carmichael. The book is a treasure to me, having fallen in love with Amy Carmichael's poetry after Susan introduced me to it. Derick Bingham was also a treasure to the Kingdom.

I honour his memory this morning with a post by my dear friend Claire who introduced me through her tribute, to the man who wrote the book. Below Claire's post is a link to an interview with Derick Bingham that is about 40 minutes long. If you have time to listen to it you will be enriched and blessed.

By Claire Alexander
“Grace groweth best in winter” (Samuel Rutherford to Lady Culross)

The rotating strobe of a lighthouse brings back such memories.*

My girlhood in West Vancouver, B.C., called Hollyburn in those schooldays, reminds me of Point Atkinson. I recall stories my dad told of the revered native Siwash Rock, which under great controversy and marvelous engineering had to be blasted out. Ships approaching the Vancouver harbour, near the Prospect Point lighthouse, and the Lions Gate Bridge, foundered on it.

Nostalgia sets in, as I smell the tang of salt, and of seaweed knotted in giant clumps of bulbous kelp with waving, slippery ribbons of leathery green, more than an adult hand-breadth wide, and metres long. I shiver with excitement, turning over boulders rounded by the smashing waves, to find the tiniest crab of the day – barely millimeters in size, skittering off sideways to safety. And just what is it now that triggers such a kaleidoscope?

An Irishman. A writer. Someone whose life touched others – and after his death this month leaves words that continue to touch me.

His words merely say, “I particularly want to use the simile of a pen being as a lighthouse.”

The words make a simple statement, but they tug a word or two out of memory, words that have lain dormant many years. He also ties them to my style of visual learning.

When Derick Bingham in Belfast heard he had acute myeloid leukemia, he found his career change direction, and courageously wrote, “I now have a remarkable opportunity to write more letters.”

His blog, written on rare occasions through his cancer, shows me a lighthouse, with its light faithfully revolving, comforting me afresh as in my childhood.

During the last few years, this pastor just “happened” to be following up research in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, at Millisle, near Belfast. In his timing, he says he “stumbled” on the recent D-4060 placement in Amy Carmichael’s hometown of her records, 41 books, and about 200 letters, by Miss Margaret Wilkinson and the Dohnavur Fellowship in southern India.

And, he says, “In reading those letters I found spiritual gold.”

The resulting “Wild-Bird Child,” summarizing Amy’s life from wildly riding her pony on the beach, to her role as social reformer in India to “compel the Government to act” (to conquer the evil traffic in young children), captivated me with its gentle but indomitable Irishness.

Today in God’s Garden at Dohnavur, a birdbath marks Amma’s grave (1867-1936).

Belfast holds a memorial for another beloved friend on March 28, 2010. The pens have been set at rest – but the light from the letters and thoughts of Amy Beatrice Carmichael and Derick Bingham keep flashing pictures on my mind, pictures of a lighthouse, even in winter.

*The quotations I have used from my ‘lighthouse’ accompanying this blog are taken by kind permission from The Complete Gathered Gold by John Blanchard and published by Evangelical Press (www.epbooks.org).

Post Script:
By Belinda
Coastal Pastor the pastor of Portstewart Baptist Church on the north coast of Northern Ireland interviewed Derick Bingham on December 31st 2009. You can listen to the interview here

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sweet Surrender

By Belinda

I locked my office door behind me and stepped outside into the fresh air to find that it was raining. In my capacious leather shoulder bag I had an umbrella. It is at such times as this that I am rewarded for carrying most of my worldly goods around with me at all times.

It felt good to be heading home, although I would miss Paul being there. He is away for a few days.

I didn't bother going to the post office. "No need to rush to pick up those bills," I thought. These days it is rare to get anything but bills and flyers.

Letting myself into the big, empty house, the phone blinked: Message waiting. It was our friend Dave, asking me to call.

"Did you only just get in?" he said.

I glanced at the clock; it said 6.15; and said, "Yes."

"Well, that was a long day," he said.

I explained that I hadn't rushed home with Paul not being here, and how it had felt so good to actually finish several things completely instead of leaving them almost done but waiting for me tomorrow.

"Well, you know," he said cheerfully,"you'll only find yourself covered in sugar and flour and vomit all over your desk," making an artful allusion to The Clash of the Dutch and the Amish.

Maybe he was right. Maybe it was all in vain and there really is no way to stem the tide. But for tonight it felt good to finish something!

It was nice to be welcomed home by a human voice but after chatting for a minute or two he said goodbye, and, home alone with a Kitchen Aid mixer, I decided that I just had to try it out.

It is Victoria's 11th birthday on Thursday, so I decided to make her a supplementary vanilla (her favourite) cake--supplementary because Brenda has already ordered a very fancy fondant covered cake. But with a large group here on Thursday there is no such thing as too much cake.

It was sheer bliss to use that baby! I sifted, measured and poured everything into one bowl and turned it on. Being the ever so slightly compulsive person that I am, I timed the process from start to finish. 20 minutes from the start (with no rushing) and the two cake pans were in the oven baking. And the beauty of it was that while it the mixer was beating it's heart out, I could do something else. And I did. I emptied the dishwasher tidied up, all the while revelling in the pleasure of knowing that a cake was being whipped up, easy peazy. I can tell that I am going to love that machine.

With Marilyn's encouragement in the comment section, Susan went and got one from the Cookstown Outlet Mall today, too! We can have a bake off!

And between you and me I think she has her eye on the sausage making attachment. :)No! I take it back, this is what Susan just wrote:

I bought my Kitchen-Aid too today! Woohoo! I'm so excited. I also bought the accessories ($99 at the outlet mall) so that I can slice vegetables (like carrot coins) and make homemade pasta (gluten free!) You can freeze the pasta or dry it. If you freeze it, or cook it fresh made, it cooks in two minutes in boiling water! There's also has a meat grinder so I can make turkey meatballs, and things like that. I'm soooo excited. I might even start cooking again! The best thing is that it is an "assembly line" tool. It will be great to get the girls together to put things in the freezer. Or bake six loaves of bread at a time!

D'ya think she sounds even more excited than me? :)

Well, I just had a call from my Sweetie in Souix Lookout (Paul that is.)

All is well in Belindaland.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Amish Enslavement

By Belinda

It was Day 10. Enough said.

The instructions that came with my Amish Friendship Bread starter, include a paragraph that states, "You will be baking every 10 days."

Can you hear the  tone in those words? "You will be baking..."

Like it or not; no matter what else is on your agenda for that day; if it is Day 10, you will be baking.

So even though it was Sunday, I came home from church knowing exactly what lay ahead before I could relax for the afternoon; a vast quantity of baking.

It was a "vast quantity" because I outwore my welcome with all of my friends the last time I inflicted bags of AFB starter on them and can't bring myself to do it again. So my plan was to bake a quadruple batch of bread (8 loaves,)freeze them, and keep just one bag going on the counter for another 10 days. I then plan to bake the lot (10 more loaves) and be done with it! The bread stops with me.

I beat a dozen eggs into submission and measured and poured equally large amounts of milk, flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and vanilla as well as oil, into my largest mixing bowl. Oh, yes, and four packets of vanilla instant pudding.

It crossed my mind that this had not been such a brilliant idea, when the instant pudding began to "instantly" set, as I struggled to stir the cement-like contents of the bowl with my biggest wooden spoon.

Paul came into the kitchen and asked why I was doing it by hand. I laughed and explained that my little Black and Decker hand mixer, over ten years old, would blow a fuse before the beaters even made it to the bowl.

"You need a new mixer," said Paul, and the next minute he was on his computer, checking to see if he had enough air miles saved to get one. Alas, the shiny Kitchen Aid mixer on the screen required over 3000 air miles and Paul only had 2000 saved.

I went back to the bowl and cheered myself up with the thought of what all of this resistance was doing for my biceps, as well as making a mental note never to do this again.

Paul went out to buy some new jeans for a trip he's going on this week. He was gone an awfully long time, I thought, but I had more than enough going on to keep me occupied.

When he came home, he was carrying a large, heavy box with the words Kitchen Aid on the side. A new mixer!

I was very touched. I really will use this beautiful new piece of kitchen equipment to the fullest. The curse of the Amish Friendship Bread has turned into a blessing!

My cousin Deb, in Switzerland, who hadn't heard of Amish Friendship Bread before and who has been following this saga with amusement and curiosity from afar, Googled it and found a recipe for starter. She wrote:
"some of my neighbours have heard about it, amazing, so I proposed to make a starter batch and share with them.........only 1 lady was willing to but I can also give it to another neighbour who loves baking

I also read you CAN keep it in a container or a big glass jar...and it seems you can freeze it, so I think I will try it.

I also send the recipe to Rob because he just bought some BIG breadpans to bake loaves in his new oven."

(Deb--you have no idea what you are messing with--aiding an Amish invasion of Europe!)

In her search Deb found this blog post: The Tyranny of Amish Friendship Bread The writer of the post did the math:
"By the end of March, just 140 days away, I will be personally responsible for the Amish enslavement of Two Hundred Eighty-Six Million, Four Hundred Thirty-Five Thousand, Four Hundred and Fifty-Six people! (It looks scarier spelled out, but in digits that's 286,435,456)"

She says, "Beware! Amish Friendship Bread is a pyramid scheme to take over the world, one Ziploc bag at a time."

I personally think it is a conspiracy by the makers of Vanilla Instant Pudding and Ziploc plastic bags.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Clash of the Dutch and the Amish

By Belinda

Me and the Amish Bread ( I have dropped "friendship" from the name; read on and  you will see why) are in a standoff. Maybe even "standoff" is too gentle. I feel as though war has been declared. On me.

Did someone whisper to the bag on the countertop what I wrote about it earlier this week?

The bag in which Brenda brought her Amish "friend" home to Mom on Sunday was the medium sized Ziploc. I was so shocked to be "tagged" with a bag that at first I didn't think too much about the size. I wondered why two years ago (the last time I had an Attack of the Amish) I had used the large sized bags to keep my blobs of goop in. Maybe I had been wasteful using big bags, I thought.

On Wednesday night I had to add to the bag a cup each of flour, sugar and milk. I eyed the bag and thought, "Yep, she can take it." I opened it and poured in food for the "baby." It was a tight fit, but I could zip 'er back up. Just. I duly mushed the bag, as per the instructions.

"Not much room for growth," I thought. But here's the problem--I'm half Dutch--I'm not Amish. Dutch people are...um...thrifty. I didn't fancy the mess of trying to squeeze the burgeoning bready contents of the medium Ziploc bag into a large one--and, why waste a perfectly good bag if not necessary?

On Thursday evening I came home from work and headed for the kitchen ready to cook dinner. The cell group would be arriving in an hour or so and every minute counts on those nights. There on the counter top was what looked like a miniature opaque football. The bag was inflated as tight and angry as the face of a two year old having a temper tantrum.

Not thinking, I opened the zipper. It hissed yeasty breath and spat goop in my face!

I tried hard to maintain my composure and reclose the zipper calmly. Then I wiped the specks of goop from my face and hair. Susan seemed to find this highly funny when I told her about it after cell group.

You would have thought that it might have occurred to one of us (okay, me) to do something other than merely reclose the bag. But no...

On Friday morning the alarm clock on Paul's side of the bed went off at quarter to five. Since he had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, I turned it off and rolled over. Two and a half hours later I woke up with a start! Yikes, I hadn't meant to sleep that long--I would have to hurry to get ready for work.

I ran downstairs and into the kitchen to put on the coffee. On the counter I noticed two things. One was a note from Brenda, who had already left for work. It said, "Hey There, I was wondering if you could feed and let out Molson when you get home. If not, could you call my cell and leave a msg? Thank you, Bren."

The note was right beside a puddle of goop. The bag had vomited over my counter top. "Did she not notice?" I thought, getting a mental image of Brenda casually propping the note beside the creeping toxic waste and leaving for work.

Now there was no doubt about it; a large sized bag it would have to be. And do you know how sticky that yeasty stuff is? Just what was needed when running late.

Darien Gee left a comment on Thursday's post. She has a Friendship Bread Kitchen page in case anyone would like to check it out. And, if you are inspired and envious, you know who to come to for a batch of starter. I will be very happy to share.

And if you are too shy to ask, I may chase you down the street, waving bags and instructions in the air, crying, "Really, this is really, really, good." And you know, it really, really is!

P.S. On Darien's website, I found a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread Pancakes. Perhaps the tide is turning!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Delight


by Susan

Tonight my post is simple. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I offer you Valter, our beloved son-in-law with Timothy Valor, when he was just a few minutes old. It's hard to believe Tim-bit will soon be celebrating his first birthday.

I hope you can put yourself in that picture. And see in Valter's eyes the way our Father looks at you...
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will joy over you with singing... Zephaniah 3:17

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I'm It!

By Belinda

We've been getting to know each other, bit by bit.

We watched a performance of Hamlet together with Brenda--our mutual connection--and I enjoyed our conversation during the interval.

But this weekend a quiver ran through our budding friendship when she sent home a "gift" with Brenda.

"Mom," Brenda said, proffering a plastic bag of fermenting goop.

Hesitating (as she should have,) she said, "Tina sent you this."

And dropping it on the counter, she beat a hasty retreat. It was not lost on me that she didn't come home with a bag for herself (being gluten intolerant has its blessings!)

"Aaaargh! NO! The curse of the Amish Friendship Bread! What friend gives you this?" I sighed.

It seems only yesterday that I finally gave up the endless cycle with my last batch and allowed it to die. This one comes with instructions that end with the ominous sentence: "Only the Amish know how to create the starter, so if you give them all away, you will have to wait until someone gives you some back."

Right!

Sorry, I have to go and check my bag. I think I may have to feed The Blob tonight.

And what's that sound? It's running feet--my friends are scattering. :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ordinary Ontarians

By Belinda

Last week...It was a week in which ordinary Ontarians showed their mettle; a week in which I was so proud of the grace and greatness that came to the surface under great pressure. That's why I had to share the words I heard from Provincial Constables Dell Mercey and Terri Patterson, and Mike Thompson over the past few days.

On Friday, March 12th, Paul and I drove into the heart of small town Ontario--a patchwork of rural farming communities--plain and simple towns; nothing fancy.

It was early in the morning when we set out; a gray, misty morning at first, with a damp cold that seeped into our bones. We turned up the heat in the car and hunched our shoulders against the chill outside.

We passed through Harriston, where a sign proclaimed, "$3,300 raised for Haiti." And that's nothing unusual; these communities are full of salt of the earth, good people.

Outside of Shelburne, through the fog rose mile after mile of tall, three blade windmills; turning lazily in synchonization; looking like aliens that had landed overnight.

Two and a half hours of driving and we were in Wingham, population approximately 3,000.

A piece of Wikipedia trivia notes about Wingham that:
The entire town is served by the single postal code of 'N0G 2W0'; a self-effacing mnemonic for the code reads as No 0ne Goes 2 (to) Wingham, 0ntario.

Well, on Friday, about 8,000 people went to Wingham.

By 10.30 a.m. we were seated beside Pete and Sue in the Wingham arena, ready for the 1.00 p.m. funeral. If we had been chilled before, a deeper chill settled in over the next four or so hours, sitting on top of an ice rink, but it was a small thing in comparison to the honour it was just to be there.

The Thompson family mingled with those waiting, reaching out with hugs and, incredibly, smiles, of welcome. They had a strength and peace that could only have come from God.

We watched a sea of officers in blue and gold fill the rows across the aisle, and our eyes filled with tears as we watched a team of boys in blue Stainton Hardware hockey sweaters file in and take their seats, boys Vu coached and who his boys play with.

In the corner of the arena a group of boys who looked to be teenagers stood in a circle, holding hands and praying. I had seen them on the platform earlier, practicing;the Wingham Pentecostal Band; comprised of three guitarists, a keyboard player and a drummer. Ordinary teens who the previous Sunday had led worship in church, never imagining that before the next Sunday they would be thrust into the public eye and leading thousands of people in song.

Pastor Timothy Bjorkman, an ordinary, relatively small town, pastor, who would deliver a gospel message to thousands, with the prayers of his church and others behind him.

Both the Wingham Pentecostal Band and Pastor Bjorkman, shone.

Pastor Bjorkman preached John 3:16 and of making good choices:
Selflessness over selfishness; mercy over judgement; life over death. And he spoke of Vu's final act of selflessness on the day he died.

Heather Pham and her boys, showed outstanding courage, grace and dignity. Ordinary people--but cut from finest cloth.

This past Sunday at church, we sang an old hymn. The last verse seemed so appropriate to share here.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red
life that shall endless be.

From the hymn by George Matheson--1882--Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go

In yesterday's comments a close friend of Heather Pham's family sent this link
OPP Constable Vu Pham Funeral

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reflections on Vu by Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson is one of Vu's Canadian brothers. I didn't capture Mike Thompson's reflections in their entirety, but I did my best and I caught most of it. This is the last of the eulogies I recorded, but tomorrow I will share some thoughts I had on the day of the funeral.
Belinda

As I’ve watched people come and go over the last couple of days, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of you who can call Vu brother for a variety of reasons.

(Mike turned to Vu’s biological brother and named him:)
You can call Vu brother because you were born into his family. Christina, Brian and I can call Vu brother because my parents made a decision twenty nine years ago that has forever altered our lives for the best.

Some of you can call Vu brother because of a choice you made, for better or worse when you married into his family or when he married into yours.

Many of you can call Vu brother because fifteen years ago he decided to serve and protect, when he joined the Ontario Provincial Police.

And many of you can call Vu brother because of a decision that he made to accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour.

No matter how Vu was your brother, you have so much to be proud of; I know I do. You see Vu was my hero.

Growing up with Vu I had to share a bedroom with him and as you’ve already heard, Vu was an amazing storyteller. It didn’t matter what the story was, I inevitably found myself in the middle of his adventure.

Oh, what a storyteller. He would paint a picture with his words in such vivid detail—whether it was hunting--and the one that got away—you could see the blades of grass—he was just so gifted.

He was also my hero because of his strength. Some of you might know this but Vu, small as he was, was a weight lifter and underneath of that uniform was one built man. He wasn’t just built with muscle, he was built with integrity, and he was strong in every sense of the word.

But the one thing that set Vu apart in my mind was his ability to connect with people. You’ve already heard some of the stories of how he connected with different people, but knowing my brother, my guess is that even if you were pulled over to get a speeding ticket, as you drove away--much slower--you would have called him your friend.

Shortly after I showed up to be with my family, one of the stories that I heard was how some people on Facebook had said, “You know, I got to go for a ride with Vu once in the back of his car and it was the best ride I ever had because he treated me with respect and dignity.”

And that’s who Vu was.

He may have died a hero to you, but he lived a hero to me.


Post Script:
Fred Preston, the man whose bullet killed Vu, died in hospital on Thursday evening March 11th. Today I heard that a request has been made by Fred Preston's children that in lieu of flowers in his memory at his funeral, they wish donations to be made to the trust fund for Vu's children. Both families were connected as friends and this tragedy has caused indescribable pain to them all.

Donations may be made to the trust fund at any Scotiabank (account # 410120217921)

Condolences
If you wish to send condolences to the family you can do so by sending an email to this email address: oppcorporatecommunications@ontario.ca or by visiting this website

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reflections on Vu Pham

To honour Vu, I am changing the normal order of posts this week and am sharing the eulogy that was delivered at Vu's funeral by Provincial Constable Terri Patterson (Vu’s partner before Constable Dell Mercey became Vu’s last partner)

(I have done my best to transcribe Constable Terri Patterson’s words, and, when not clear on the exact words, to convey their intent. My apologies to Terri for anything I may have misinterpreted.)

This is an honour. I thought I’d cried all the tears I had until I was called and asked to speak today.

I want to give you a glimpse of Vu the man, the police officer; what he was like when he was behind closed doors. Not the cookie cutter that tends to get spoken at times like this. So I thought about what I would say. He was a family man; a good family man; just a general nice guy.

So after I stopped the river of tears and thought about what I would say about Vu, I started reflecting on a few calls we had done with one another when I had first met him; that sort of thing.

I first worked with Vu about five or six years ago. We got switched to the same shift and Dale Brenner (?) was our N.C.O. We were having a shift meeting and afterwards Dale came and spoke to Vu and I and commented that our DARS weren’t done or something equally important.

I think he said, “You can do better.”

I looked at Vu and I told him, “Smarten up.”

Vu looked at me and gave me a quizzical look, and if you knew Vu, he’d look you in the eye and look to the left and to the right and look you back in the face and he said, “Well you smarten up first.”

So he laughed and Dale said, “The pair of you smarten up.”

I think it was at that time we developed a good working bond, a good working relationship that we had.

The man was a man of few words--and not! He loved talking about hunting; the boys and hockey. But in a group setting he was quiet, and because of that, when he came out with something funny it just made it that much more funny because you didn’t expect it to come from Vu.

He was a gentleman first and foremost. He would open a door for me, if we went out for coffee. He’d open the door for any lady that was walking in and as Dell said in his remarks, he didn’t get into the office humour, the office talk like a lot of us do, and shouldn’t, I guess. And he was always polite with people and took the time to listen to them and make them feel important.

And in reflecting upon that I thought about my young son Spencer who plays novice hockey for Blyth, and Penzergast who plays for Wingham. My husband is retired from the O.P.P. and we said that we weren’t going to say anything about what was happening; that the boys were maybe too young to know that not everybody in the world is as nice as they should be.

But a relative phoned, upset and distraught and spoke to Spencer and told him what had happened and he hands the phone to me and he was screaming about someone getting shot.

When I hung up the phone, he asked me what had happened and I explained to him what had happened and he asked specifically after Dell, not knowing that Dell had been there, but that somebody else had been there and he asked if he was okay. While I was talking on the phone he found a newspaper and it was the Toronto Sun and it had a picture of Vu right on the front page.

He looked at it and he says, “That’s the dad of the boy I play against who plays for Wingham.”

And I said, “Yes.”

“Is that the man that got shot?”

And I said, “Yes Spencer it is.”

He got quite upset and he said, “He was a real nice man.”

We had played Wingham on the Friday previous and Vu was running the clock.

And he said, “That man sat in the box and he would always wave at me and give me the thumbs up. And when I spoke with him he would always ask me how I was doing in hockey and if I had really had fun."

Vu hadn’t seen him that often, a couple of shift Christmas parties, but if an 8 year old remembers that kindness, what kind of impact did he have on the community that saw him more?

I’m amazed at how Vu handled himself when someone would come up to us and ask if the O.P.P. still had height requirements. Those of you that know Vu, know that he wasn’t the tallest fellow.

And usually I’d make some remark and say, “You can be as tall as you want.”

A couple of people, usually the clients we dealt with, would keep going at it, trying to get a rise out of Vu and why did we hire somebody that was his height. And he just looked up and he said, “I was lucky that at the time that I applied they were hiring short Asian men. I got the job.”

There were a few shift shuffles; Vu and I got separated and a couple of years after we worked on Dale’s shift we were reunited on Krista Millar’s shift. Vu worked Wingham and I worked Huron East.

For those of you that don’t know the area, Wingham is the north part of Huron County and Huron East is in the east side of the county. ....each one of us had to work our zones alone, relying on one another for back up. If we got busy we’d come down into the other zone and take other’s calls and that’s just the way it was—we’d see one another more than we’d see of any of the other guys.

So two or three years ago Vu was covering Seaforth for me while I was tied up with another investigation and we were getting radioed and he got called to speak to one of our local characters whose name was Doug (I won’t use his last name.)

He wanted to speak to police so Vu went to see him at the Seaforth office; now those of you who know the Seaforth office know that it is about 8 feet wide from the front to the back; not a lot of room. Vu went and did the call; Doug hasn’t drawn too many sober breaths in his life. Doug is 6 foot 3; 240; Vu—not quite. I was at the Huron office, Vu brings him over to process him and it’s all over.

About two weeks later I’m walking down the street and met Doug(you can insert F bombs and swear words) and he said, “Here, I want to talk to you!”

“Yep, what do you want Doug?”

“Who’s that little Ninja cop?”

“Ninja cop?”

“That “little” cop that you got.”

(She threw out a couple of names and Doug said “No,” to both of them, then she figured out that it was Vu Pham and asked why he wanted to know.)

“Oh, tough little guy,” and he didn’t elaborate on it.

I didn’t see Vu that shift but the next night we were having coffee and I said, “What did you do with Doug? He kept calling you a Ninja cop.”

And Vu starts talking and he gets this grin and he says, “Well, I said, ‘Doug you’re going to be under arrest,’

And Doug said, ‘You’re not arresting me.’

And I said, ‘What’s the matter Doug? We’re not going to play this game,’

And Doug said, ‘No,’ and the struggle went back and forth. Next thing Doug’s on his stomach, face down with the cuffs on.

Now Vu being a man of few words, it took me four years to get the whole story. On the 13th of February I was down in Clinton and Vu and I were talking and another officer was there and every time Vu would walk up I would say “Ninja Vu!” or “Scooby Vu” or something like that.

And the other officer said “Why do you call him Ninja Vu?” and I told the story.

Well then Vu elaborated on it and I guess it was a bit of a struggle and Vu ended up flipping him over the shoulder and down on the ground and this is in an 8 foot wide spot and Doug he went down.

I don’t think Vu ever had a problem with Doug and I’d be surprised if Doug wasn’t here today. He had a newfound respect for Ninja Vu.

Huron East has its dead zones, we call them “Seaforth vortex." I got Vu’s cell phone number so I could catch him when we wanted to do coffee. So I texted him a couple of times and said, “Let’s do coffee,” on the day shift.

And being the Smart Alec that I am, I texted him saying, “You don’t love me anymore because you won’t answer me.”

I get a text back saying, “Yeah, he probably still loves you but I have his phone and it’s Heather; I’m in Kitchener.” A case of foot in mouth!

The next night we had coffee and I said, “Vu, I hope I didn’t get you in trouble. Heather could have taken that the wrong way.”

And Vu said, “Aw no, she thought it was funny. She knows I can’t handle the stress of one woman, let alone two.”

So Vu would forget his phone at least once every other block or so and when he went home for lunch he would forget to bring it with him and I’d text him and that kind of started conversations in the middle of the night with Heather. Heather would always answer me. She would never come out for coffee though!

Once when we were in Seaforth again and Vu and I were backing one another up, dispatch called about an unwanted male in Seaforth. Vu was the perfect back up officer. He’d show up, he was quiet; if he saw you were doing something he wouldn’t butt in and try to take over, he just sat and watched and if he saw you needed help he’d step in. So anyways I was dealing with this one fellow and he just didn’t get it and Vu shows up and I gave him a nod and said, “Vu.”

And I said, “Look, you gotta go,” and the guy said, “No.”

With that Vu came out from behind me and said, “Look, you’ll get your stuff and you’ll get out and you’ll do it now.”

And I was looking at Vu, because this was so unlike Vu, telling the guy to get out.

And I said, “Did you have a rush of testosterone or something?”

And he says, “Well you called me Vu.”

And I said, “Well, is there something else you want me to call you? Because that’s your name.”

And he said, “No, anytime I see you, you call me Scooby Vu or Ninja Vu, and when you just called me Vu I knew that your patience was wearing thin so I thought I’d better step in.”

And that was the kind of working relationship that we were able to develop.

We also went to another “unwanted “occurrence sometime after that and Vu was there and we walked in together and a lady answered the door and said, “Oh, you’re alone.”

We did the call and then said, “Let’s stop for coffee,” so we went to Tim Hortons and we walked in and someone said, “Oh, you’re working alone again--or is Vu staying in the car?”

And I said, “No, he’s right there,”

And she said, “Oh, I didn’t see him.”

And so when we were having coffee I said to Vu, “Do you think I need to lose weight? That’s the second time that’s happened.”

Vu was standing as he normally did with his fingers in the side of his pants and his hands on the outside of his pants and he said, “Well; I’m not going to get any taller.”

Sometime about a year and a half, I got put on a different shift and Vu got Dell Mercey as a partner but prior to that, it was close to Christmas, and I said, “What are you getting Heather for Christmas?”

“Aw, I don’t know,” he said, “there’s no rush, it’s only four days away.”

I said, “You know, she’s a nice woman, beautiful, very nice,” I said, “What in the hell does she see in you?”

He looked at me and said, “Terri, there’s more to me than just Ninja moves.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Life With a Purpose



By Belinda

Actually, this isn't "by Belinda." I could write much about yesterday's funeral for Vu Pham, and I am sure that over the next few days I will; but I want to give you the best--and today the best is the eulogy delivered by Vu's partner: Constable Dell Mercey at yeaterday's funeral in Wingham, Ontario. Here it is, with an explanation of the enigmatic statement at the end.

Family, friends, police family and dignitaries, thank you for gathering here today to honour a great son; father; brother and police officer: Vu Pham.
My name is Dell Mercey, I work out of the Huron O.P.P. Detachment. I was Vu’s partner for almost two years. A lot of you here today don’t know Vu and I would like you to know his story.

For those of you who do know him, you will probably hear things you didn’t know about his life. His story is a truly extraordinary one. It’s a story of a man who overcame some obstacles.

I’ve known Vu since he was posted to Wingham and more so since becoming his partner, two years ago. During that time I would often get bits and pieces of his past—how he got here etc. I felt I knew him well enough I didn’t feel like I was prying so I got to be blunt and asked him certain questions. The more I found out, the more my admiration for this man grew; you will see why.

Vu Pham was born on March 20th 1972 in Saigon, South Vietnam. The country was torn by war at the time and North Vietnamese troops were taking over. People were desperately trying to get out of the country. For reasons beyond the control of his mother, Men Nguyen, she could not accompany Vu and Vu’s uncle Bing. She told him he was going fishing with his Uncle Bing and they were separated.

Vu and his uncle got on a boat and reached a refugee camp in Malaysia. They stayed there until they were sponsored and brought to Canada, to the Elmira area. Vu stayed with his Uncle Bing for a short time before he went to live with Ward and Ruth Schwind for about a year. In 1981 Vu came to live with Dan and Terry Thompson. Vu was raised in Elmira and Tottenham, before the family finally moved to Sundridge. He was now in his late teens when he met the love of his life, Heather Weber, through school and church. Vu went on to Seneca College in Toronto after high school, where he graduated with a diploma in Law and Security. After college, he accepted a position with the Ontario Provincial Police.

Vu and Heather married on September 30th, 1995. Their first son, Tyler, was born in Parry Sound on February 17th in 1998; which was Vu’s first posting. The family transferred to Cochran and two more boys followed: Jordan being born on February 11th 2000, and Josh on March 30th, 2002. Vu’s brother and mother also eventually emigrated to the United States and they both now live in California.

Vu ended up transferring to Huron O.P.P. and worked out of the Wingham office. I often thought, “Now here’s a guy who has lived through what most of us could not possibly understand as a child and yet look how he turned out.” As police officers, most of us would look at the ingredients at the start of his life and predict he wouldn’t amount to much. How wrong we would have been if we would have judged him that way.

Vu was fortunate enough to have a mother that loved him enough to let him go to a better life, leaving herself behind. Vu was fortunate to be embraced by the church and people of Elmira. Vu was fortunate to be welcomed in by the Schwind family and then raised by Dan and Terry Thompson, who did a phenomenal job. Vu was fortunate to have met and married Heather and become part of the Weber family. The bottom line is that he turned into a man that has no equal when it comes to the love of his wife, sons, family and his church.

Vu and I would start our shifts an hour apart every day. He started before me and I would walk to work in the mornings. As I walked to work I would always look forward to seeing him there and the greeting would always be the same. He would smile and say, “What’s going on Dell?” We would sit and talk before we went out onto the road and his conversations would often be about his boys. He would describe the hockey games, soccer games...it was so obvious how proud he was of his boys. You could see it in his eyes, his smile and the enthusiasm when he was telling me these stories. I would listen and he would tell about the plays in the game the boys made in either soccer or hockey. His descriptions were quite good and he was obviously very proud of the boys. Whenever he spoke of Heather and the boys it was always the same; you could sense the love and the pride that he had in his family.

Vu also had an unwavering faith in God and his church. Sometimes the police office where just the officers hang out can sound a little bit like a pool hall. You never heard Vu partake in that language but he would never judge. And it’s a funny thing, but in a short time I found myself, toning it down a bit—quite a bit.

He would never judge you; he wouldn’t force his beliefs upon you unless you asked. On a few occasions I would discuss God and religion with him, but it would have been me that brought up the topic and he would answer my questions. Vu always made me feel comfortable with his answers. He was very committed to his community and his church. He was often at the arena, the soccer field, the hockey rink, always helping out; always a pleasant part of the hockey and soccer social network, along with the parents of the other children. He was also no strange face at the school where the boys went to classes. He would often drop in for an event and all the kids there were very comfortable with him.

I have had time to reflect on his life since this tragedy happened and my thoughts keep coming back to a book I read a few years ago. It also coincided with me partnering with Vu.

One day I was sitting on my deck having a beer and the neighbour behind me came down. He came over...I knew his faith was strong in church and I don’t know why but the talk came around to God—God became the subject, and we had a good chat and he left and that was that.

A few days later I was out on my front lawn and my neighbour across the street comes strolling across and he has a book in his hand and he gave it to me and he wanted me to read it. The title of that book was: The Purpose Driven Life, and it’s written by a minister named Rick Warren. Some of you may know it. The book is a guide to help understand why each of us are here and what plan God has for us. It also focuses on our purpose. I remember thinking then that two neighbours, coming to me in this way in the span of, I think, almost less than a week--um--somebody was maybe trying to tell me something. So I read this book.

I believe a lot of people have not figured out their purpose in this world; maybe me included. Vu Pham is not one of those men. He knew his purpose; he lived life with a purpose. His purpose and choice was to know and love God. His purpose was to be a dedicated husband and father and to instil solid values in his children. His purpose was to help people and enrich their lives. His purpose was to teach young people, always being there at school, church, hockey and soccer. All these purposes define what kind of a great man he was. And I believe his final purpose was when his spirit stood beside me, helping me when I was sure I was going to die that day. I didn’t die that day because Vu Pham saved my life.


Post Script: Following the funeral, I asked Vu's Canadian brothers, Mike and Brian Thompson, what Constable Dell Mercey meant when he said that Vu saved his life. They told me that Constable Dell Mercey thought he was going to die that day, but he believes that Vu took the bullet meant for him because he wasn't yet "ready" to die.

Here is a link to theThe Toronto Sun where you can view a slide show of photos of yesterday.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Godspeed

by Susan

It's been a week. Although not as closely connected to the deaths these past few days as Belinda has been, they have affected me deeply. Both of them. It has hit home once again how fleeting life is. And what a precious gift. I said to Belinda tonight, "How dare we be discontented? About anything... How dare we?" She nodded her head in agreement.

Earlier this week I was sidelined with a pain in my chest that was severe enough to make me think I should put my affairs in order. A midnight trip to the hospital and a chest xray or two later, accompanied by EKG, bloodwork, a good long ventolin treatment helped the doctor to reach the diagnosis of "pneumonia". "Walking pneumonia". Weird. Well, now I know that particular and distinctive pain which I felt in my chest on Sunday morning was NOT any kind of heart attack, but is the feeling of lungs fighting infection and air capacity diminished. It was weird all right. The doctor said to drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. Then he scratched out a prescription on his pad which pretty much guaranteed I would not sleep at all for the next two days and one long night in between. By yesterday I was beside myself with fatigue. And irritable? I would have ripped your face off if you'd come close enough for me to reach. But I'm feeling much better now, thank you for asking. And grateful for the gift of life. And sleep. And effective medication. And the time this week spent in recovery. Time to think, and read and rest and recover.

It was good to go back to work today. It felt a bit early, but it was still really good. I had thought I couldn't possibly afford to take three days off right now, but an amazing thing happened while I was away. The work waited for me! The world didn't come to an end. The program I manage, didn't fall apart. Amazing.

And in the process I learned something. In fact I learned lots of things. Sick and all, it's been such a good week in some ways, even in spite of some horrific news about the young man gunned down on a back road in rural Ontario. The young man who in his mid teens could occasionally be found at our kitchen table of a Sunday afternoon, eating pizza and hanging out with our son Dan.

This morning, sitting in our manager's meeting, I asked for prayer. There have been some pretty significant side-effects to the very powerful antibiotics I've been on and sitting there I felt so weird. High strung. To the snapping point. And irritable. And I wanted to cry. I felt like I'd drunk at least 36 cups of coffee in a very short space of time.

Tonight I am sitting here at peace. No angst. No weird feeling. No irritability. No nervousness. Calm.

Sigh.

And boy, am I grateful. Thank God for answered prayer.

Belinda is traveling to Wingham today (Friday) with Paul, to attend the funeral of Constable Vu Pham. I don't understand why it is that God allowed Vu, a husband and dad to three boys this week to give the supreme sacrifice, while I was restored to health. And Colleen, despite much prayer, to succumb to the damage caused by a heart fibrillation. I don't understand, but I accept it. I trust his goodness and his wisdom. And I'm grateful. Grateful enough to pray that I never waste another breath.

Our prayers are with you today, dear Belinda. May God use you to carry something of His comfort and blessing to the little town of Wingham this day. Godspeed, my friend and keep you safe.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How You Lived

By Belinda

I circled the car pool until I found Bonnie's car, then she got into mine and we set off down the highway for the short journey to Springdale Christian Reformed Church in the Holland Marsh.

The day held the promise of spring in the muddy retreat of the snow that has blanketed the land for the long winter. Our hearts too, held a mixture of spring and winter as we went to pay our respects by being present at the funeral for Colleen Mills, sister-in-law to your friend Ellen (Joyful Fox.)

We were deliberately early and we found a parking spot at the side of the road, and seats in the church that was already packed with people.

On our way in, I spotted Ellen and her daughter, Hannah. I tried to catch her eye, but so full of nervous energy was she as she flitted about--a slim figure in a black dress--that I had to run after her to hug her and let her know we were there.

Bonnie and I found seats and listened to the piano music that was the backdrop to the hum of many voices as people gathered and greeted each other. In the language of music, the piano's voice told a story of faith and triumph even in painful circumstances. "Fairest Lord Jesus," (I heard the words to the music, in my head,) "Ruler of all nature."

Yes, and even over death.

In front of us, on an overhead screen at the front of the large, circular sanctuary, a slide show played photos of a family together, celebrating the events that all families celebrate.

For two hours, family and friends sang, shared memories and worshipped together. The church must have held between 300-400 people. It was all a wonderful tribute to 44 years lived well, by someone who touched the world around her with kindness, sweetness and laughter.

Not for the first time this week, the thought crossed my mind that the only moment we know we have is now; this time; this moment. This week has been filled with poignant reminders not to put off the important things we intend to do "sometime."



On that day when I see
All that You have for me
When I see You face to face
There surrounded by Your grace

All my fear is swept away
In the light of your embrace
When Your love is all I need
And forever I am free

Where the streets are made of gold
In Your presence healed and whole
Let the songs of heaven rise to you alone

No weeping, no hurt or pain
No suffering You hold me now
You hold me now
No darkness no sick or lame
No hiding You hold me now,
You hold me now

In this life I will stand
Through my joy and my pain
Knowing there's a greater day
There's a hope that never fails

When Your name is lifted high
And forever praises rise
For the glory of Your Name
I'm believing for the day

When the wars and violence cease
All creation lives in peace
Let the songs of heaven rise to you alone

No weeping, no hurt or pain
No suffering You hold me now
You hold me now
No darkness, no sick or lame
No hiding You hold me now,
You hold me now

For eternity
All my heart will give
All the glory to Your name

(Hillsong--Lyrics to You Hold Me Now)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

holy experience



By Belinda

Today I will be at the funeral for Colleen Mills, Joyful Fox's sister-in-law, who passed away on Saturday. Her family kept a 7 week vigil at the hospital, praying for a miracle, but it was not to be.

On January 18th, she had suffered a heart arythmia at the start of an exercise class. Just 44; a sweet and kind person, she had a young family and husband who loved her.

There is a link to her sister Sylvia's blog, which chronicles their journey, in the upper right corner of this blog. Sylvia chose this beautifully appropriate scripture to announce Colleen's arrival in heaven:

Psalm 45:13,14:
13 The bride, a princess, looks glorious
in her golden gown.
14 In her beautiful robes, she is led to the king...

I confess that after the painful events of this week, I am suddenly aware of the privilege that it is to grow old.

On Tuesday night, after the death of Vu Pham, just 37, I woke up in the night, with the words of Psalm 23 on my mind. As I recited it from memory, verse 4 came alive with significance:

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;


The whole lovely and familiar psalm is a celebration of life: lived here on earth and in heaven.

We walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Death itself is just a shadow that we pass by on the way to the banqueting table of the King of kings.


Psalm 23 (New International Version)

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Our prayers are with the Mills and Fox families today, and also with the Pham and Thompson families.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Remembering Vu Pham



By Belinda

The headline in The Toronto Star reads, Officer Dead After Shooting. 37 year old Constable Vu Pham, a 15 year veteran of the Ontario Provincial Police, died Monday afternoon, with his wife Heather, and three young sons by his side.

I was meeting with a colleague in my office Monday afternoon afternoon when my desk phone rang. I turned the ringer off, intent on focusing on the person I was with. My cell phone rang too and I ignored it; I could check for a message in a few moments, I thought. When the person left, I checked my computer and there was a two word email from my boss. "Call me," it said. I called--and that's when I heard that Vu had been shot in the head by a man whose car he had flagged down.

Vu is the adopted brother of Mike, one of our team of area managers, but 22 years ago, they were both just teenagers in the church we attend, Hillside Community Church, in Tottenham, and part of the youth group our kids were in and which we led. Constable Vu Pham was "Voofum," his nickname in the youth group.

Pastor Dan Thompson and his wife Terry, had adopted Vu when he arrived as a refugee from Vietnam, years before they came to pastor at our church after Paul's dad died in 1986. Vu kept his own surname; Pham, but he was as much a part of their family as if he was born into it. He stood out a bit; a raven black haired child, among three red headed children, but he was family.

The news hit our kids, especially Peter, hard. He turns 40 in a couple of months. He's three years older than Vu, but his 4 kids are in the age range of Vu's 3 boys. He could hardly get the words out through his grief, feeling for Heather and the terrible loss she and his boys face.

He remembered the weekend that Pastor Dan and Terry went away and asked him to come and stay with Vu for the weekend. Vu was a quiet kid, but Pete said that over that weekend they really connected.

Brenda's memory was of a banquet in the church basement, where Vu intended to pull her chair out slightly as a joke, but Brenda missed it completely and landed hard on the floor. He felt awful at the joke that went wrong and couldn't stop apologizing.

How can it be that 22 years later his life ended at the side of a quiet road in a rural community? This wasn't even the streets of a city.

But this isn't some nightmare from which we will wake up.

We don't know what spawned the series of events that led to that terrible moment on Monday morning. Vu didn't know when he began his day that it would be his last on earth.

We do know that he died doing his duty, serving his community in a job that could put him in harms way at any moment, with a police force whose motto is Safe Communities; a secure Ontario.

Vu was a hero. We honour his memory and give thanks for all of his fellow officers who daily put their lives on the line to keep us safe.

Our hearts go out to his wife, Heather, his boys, the Thompson family and his fellow officers. Our prayers are with them.

This article in the The Toronto Sun just sent to me by Susan, describes the man Vu was.
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He Shows the Way

holy experience


By Belinda

It was a Friday evening when Frank got a call that meant he'd have to drive down to the city instead of going home as he'd planned. It was bitterly cold and a blizzard had engulfed our area, but he set off down the highway, with the wind whipping the car and the snow coming down hypnotically, heavily, and relentlessly.

He was already tense, and straining to see the road ahead, when one of the lenses suddenly popped out of his glasses, causing his vision to be out of focus.

Heart in his mouth, he pulled over to the side of the highway and stopped. He tried to feel for the lens, hoping to pop it back into the frame temporarily. It had to be there, he thought, but he couldn't find it.

Thinking that it might be on the floor, he pushed open the door against the wind that was pushing back, and got out, so that he could look under the seat. His coat was in the back of the car, but now he was out without it, in the numbing, bitter, freezing cold wind, and the car was shaking with every car that zoomed by as he groped around looking for a lens that had vanished into thin air.

Frank had to give up and get back into the car. He improvised an eye patch by grabbing a wad of tissues and sticking them into the empty hole in one side of the frame. By this time in the story,the mental image was too much. When Frank told me this story, I went from rapt attention to imagining what would have happened if he had been pulled over by the police. I collapsed into laughter.

I shared my own recent highway horror story that occurred after my friend Irene and I had traveled together to an all day meeting. At the end of the day she dropped me off where I had left my car at a car pool. I was tired, it was late and already dark, and again, a bitterly cold night.

All I could think of was getting home as fast as possible, so I got into my little plum Honda Civic, started it, and pulled out of the car pool, onto the road and then the onto highway 400, the major 6 lane highway going north. I was already on the highway before I realized that my windows weren't clearing, but freezing over. The air inside the car was not yet warm enough to clear them. In my impatience I had put myself in a situation where I was driving almost blind on a busy highway.

Adrenalin coursed through every nerve as I prayed desperately, "Jesus, Jesus! Help me!" I couldn't believe this was happening and that I had been so foolish. I couldn't even see the side of the highway in order to pull over. My windshield wipers were on full speed, but against the extreme cold they had no effect. I pumped some window wash fluid onto to the windshield and this time it cleared a small enough hole for me to just about see the side of the road.

Trembling, I pulled over, out of the stream of cars flying by, and thanked God for getting me off the highway in one piece. I waited while the car warmed, and until I was over those moments of terror. I was grateful to be alive.

Then Frank talked about a big decision to be made. He said he wasn't rushing to make it, but praying it through.

"Keep doing what you're doing until God shows the next step. At least that's how I have lived my life," I said, "God is able to make it clear when the time is right for the next step."

God is there for us on highways in blinding storms and in the storms of life.

He never fails. He shows us the way.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Power of One No

By Belinda

"You seem to do a really good job of building things that you are learning, into your life," said Susan.

"Doesn't everybody?" I said.

"Nope!" was her emphatic reply, and she went on to use herself as an unflattering example of not doing so.

Of course that conversation kind of went on in reverse last night after cell group, when we stood at the door saying goodnight.

We were talking about how much better we can work through things through now than we used to be able to.

"You sure have changed," she said.

"I've changed? And you haven't had to change at all?" I said.

"Nope! Not at all." she said. And we hugged and said goodbye, laughing at one another.

I've been thinking about Susan's first (nice) comment this week, though. It was encouraging, because so often it feels as though a lifetime can be spent fighting the same battles; going around the same mountains; whether they be addictive behaviours; overworking; procrastination; overspending; lack of exercise; lack of adequate rest; anger; living without sabbath--and those are just yours! Just joking, of course! :)

This line of thinking reminded me of something that Gary Thomas, one of the speakers at the Focus on Marriage seminar that I attended last week, said. It hit me with its encouragement and truth as I reread the notes I made:

Perseverence and persistence are biblical principals. We can grow out of an addiction by saying no to it many times.

I immediately saw the relevance to areas that we all battle.

I've been thinking a lot about that phrase: "We can grow out of an addiction by saying no to it many times."

Isn't that how we build things into our lives that we want to? Small step by small step? I get excited at the hope and truth in that principle. The big fresh start when everything will change--New Year's Day--is encouraging for some of us! Nothing wrong with a fresh start, I love them myself. I also want to faithfully persevere with small steps in the right direction, fully absorbing the principle that saying no to something I don't need, even once, is a step in forming a new and healthier pattern in my life. I can do small steps.

I hope this thought encourages you too--if you have as many problems as me, that is. :)

Perseverance and persistance are old fashioned virtues, a little out of sync with this fast paced, instant-gratification-oriented world, but I want to make their acquaintance--get to know them better.

Happy Saturday!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Snow Story

by Susan

It was just a few days past Valentine's Days. Ron and I slipped away from the Deerhurst Inn, where he was attending meetings all week (and I was along "for the ride") and headed east along Highway 60 away from "the madding crowds" and in search of something that was much more our style. I mean, the Deerhurst is beautiful and all that (it's where the G8 Summit is meeting in May of this year) but it's just not "real" somehow. Algonquin Park was just half an hour away. We couldn't resist the opportunity for adventure. Not when there was a snowy trail out there somewhere just waiting for us...

Entering the west end of the park, we stopped at the gatehouse to pay for our day pass. The man behind the counter told us we wouldn't enjoy the trek up to Hardwood Lookout at this time of year. "The parking lot's not plowed," he said. "You'd have to leave your car at the side of the highway. You never know when the salt truck could come along. You'd be better off taking the Whiskey Rapids trail. That's where most people go this time of year. You'll see a few cars parked there at the trailhead."

We thanked him for the help but once we were back in the car, we shied away from his advice. We weren't too worried about the salt truck coming along. The road was clear and dry, and the prospect of being on a trail without another human in sight was much more attractive to us than the idea of following a herd of strangers on their way to and from Whiskey Rapids.

That's how the two of us came to be alone and heading up a trail to Hardwood Lookout in the middle of winter.


We went in the opposite direction of the arrows which marked out the trail. We knew from past experience that "going the wrong way" meant a steeper climb, but it would be a much shorter hike than going round the long way, even if it meant breaking the rules.

Looking at the telltale marks in the snow is one of the most fun things about hiking in winter. We saw several sets of deer tracks leading out of the woods and heading toward the road. There was also a set of dog-like prints, probably left by a coyote, or maybe a fox. There were a few sets of human footprints in the snow along the trail, too, but most of them were quite old. There were two fresher sets, though. One going in, and someone in the very same set of footwear, going back out. "Ah," we thought out loud each other. "Someone else had the same idea we did and they took the shortcut to the lookout."

Although we'd made many treks up this same trail in the summer, I was heady with the excitement of seeing how it would look in the winter. We paused several times just to listen.

It sounds different in the woods in winter. The big maples have shed their leaves to the wind, and missing is the singing and twittering of summertime birds who have nearly all flown south. It can be eerily quiet. On this day in mid February, mixed in the midst of mostly bare limbs were the brittle brown leaves clinging tenaciously to the elm branches. They quivered and rattled against each other in wave after wave, sounding like some tiny form of wind-chimes as the wind would pick up and then just as quickly ease back again into the stillness and the silence.

Tramp, tramp, tramp.

It wasn't long before we had huffed and puffed our way to the top of the lookout where there were two benches placed strategically for sitting, resting, and admiring the spectacular view. As we got closer, we noticed something that intrigued us no end, and got us talking about the possibilities of what had gone on before our arrival.


These next few photos are the photographic evidence of our climb to the top...

What do YOU think is the story here?




Thursday, March 04, 2010

Hosanna

By Belinda

It was 15 minutes from the end of Da Vinci’s Inquest when my inner alarm clock went off and jolted me from my focus on one of my favourite television programs. Okay, I am an addict, I confess. After teasing Paul for his nightly appointment with Dominic Da Vinci, I made the fatal mistake of watching it myself and became hooked!

The alarm clock...it is faulty, but it kicks in now and then, and it was urgently telling me that worship practice would be starting in 15 minutes. With Paul's assurance as I left, that he would tell me how it ended, I thought to myself, "Ha! It never ends!" The secret of my addiction is that there are loose threads dangling at the end of each program.

I didn't really mind leaving. I had been listening to the CD of new songs that the worship team is learning and I don't think I will ever get over the sheer joy I feel at singing beautiful songs with this team of worshippers. I love worshiping God in song--have done ever since I was a child and used to sit on the stairs and sing hymns to Mum while she cleaned the bedrooms.

So tonight Paivi and Cindy were on my left, singing their gorgeous alto harmonies, and Frances on my right with her beautiful voice, and Susan sitting beside her focused on the words of the new song we were learning and helping us get it right. Cheryl was facing all of us and leading, and Charliene and Esther were on keyboard and piano. I was singing the only thing I can; melody; and thinking, "Does it get any better than this moment--right here, right now?"

One of the songs we learned was Hosanna, by Paul Baloche and someone asked, "What does "hosanna" mean?"

A variety of opinions were shared.

I said, "I think it just means, "Praise God.'"

"You should write about that on your blog tonight," said Cheryl, "the meaning of 'Hosanna.'"

Susan asked, "Are you taking suggestions for blog posts now?"

And I said, "Yes, if they are inspired and I need inspiration!"

And that is why I'm writing this. To say that I was right about the meaning--and to share the song we learned. Happy Thursday every body!

ho·san·na also ho·san·nah (h-zn)
interj.
Used to express praise or adoration to God.
n.
1. A cry of "hosanna."
2. A shout of fervent and worshipful praise.
The Free Dictionary
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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Somewhere in the Courts of the Lord

 Belinda (from the archives)

Psalm 84:10 Amplified Version
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand (anywhere else); I had rather be a doorkeeper and stand at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell (at ease) in the tents of wickedness.

Today I used her Bible, as I often do if I want to search for a scripture passage in the Amplified Version. The cover is red leather and inside of it is a name and date: "Agnes McDonald, 1975." She would have been seventy six that year.

The Bible, that had belonged to her, was one of her many gifts to me during our friendship, which spanned almost twenty years until she died at the age of ninety two. I called her "Aunt Agnes," for "Miss MacDonald," the name by which she was generally known, was too formal, but "Agnes" lacked the deep respect I felt for her as a young woman just in my twenties then. I can't explain the deep bond of connection and love with this woman fifty years my senior, but as I hold her Bible in my hands, I feel it still.

The Bible has the floppy, "well used" feel of a book thoroughly broken in. The pages are sprinkled with her notations, cross references and thoughts. Slips of paper nest between its pages with old sermon notes. I even found a letter from an old friend, whose name I recognized, as Aunt Agnes had told me the story of their friendship (I put that away safely).

Holding her Bible in my hands, I can feel the deep devotion of this woman for her Lord.

I looked up Psalm 84, my favourite psalm, because I was thinking of where she is now, somewhere in the courts of the Lord. I didn't expect the tears that came as I read the first two verses. In the Amplified Version it says:

1 How lovely are Your tabernacles O Lord of hosts!

In many other versions it simply says, “How lovely is your dwelling place.” Aunt Agnes had a hobby, building models of the tabernacle in the wilderness, and teaching about it (the story of the tabernacle is in the book of Exodus).

The second verse says this:
2 My soul yearns, yes, even pines and is homesick for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out and sing for joy to the living God.

She had underlined the words, "is homesick," "my heart and flesh cry" and "sing for joy to the living God." I think of the times I visited her in the nursing home where she spent her final year or so and how a tear would escape from her eyes every time she heard of the homegoing of yet another friend--not for them--for herself, left behind. She felt that everyone up there must be saying, "What ever happened to Aggie?"

Prayer: Lord I thank you that relationships and bonds of friendship are eternal. I thank you today for this special friend, Agnes McDonald, whose legacy I treasure.